Corporate Research

Unilever’s Qualitative Accreditation Program & Misdirected Quest for “Fresh Ideas”

Many researchers have discussed Unilever’s accreditation program for qualitative research.  Among others, the Market Research Society, ESOMAR’s Research World, and Katfresh ideas2hryn Korostoff (Research Rockstar) have all outlined what led up to this program, the objectives of the program, and the accreditation process.  In a nutshell, Unilever assessed the outcomes of their many qualitative studies around the globe and determined that the qualitative researchers Unilever has employed to conduct their qual studies have generally failed in providing management with a sufficient caliber of new ideas and insights that serve to move the company forward.

Manish Makhijani, a consumer insights director at Unilever, stated in an interview discussing the program that one of his top concerns with their qualitative research is the inconsistency in “the quality of insights and debriefs” among their qualitative researchers, emphasizing that “what matters in qual more than anything else is the quality of thinking that you put on the table.”  And, indeed, Makhijani brought home this point at the November 2012 ESOMAR conference when he presented the notion that “good” qualitative research is derived Read Full Text

The Key to Successful Executive Interviewing: Up Close & Personal

The researcher’s key to the executive suite is hanging in the spot where it has always been.  Our entry into the consumer and other B2B worlds may have strayed towards mobile and online methods – bulletin boards, surveys, communities, and social-media lurking – but successful research with the corporate executive still lies in the warm, personal connections we make in the face-to-face mode. We can try to defend other approaches as more efficient (in time and cost), innovative, and sexy, but the reality is that nothing reaps the richness of a person (the professional interviewer) sitting with another person (the executive interviewee) for the sole purpose of exploring topic-specific attitudes and behavior.

If success is measured by the depth of input and insight then there are at least six necessary components to the face-to-face executive interviewing design model: Read Full Text

The Value of the Research Function: Seeing the Forest, Not Just the Trees

Back in the summer of 2010 a group of researchers engaged in a lively online debate concerning the client-side marketing research function.  Specifically, the discussion focused on whether client organizations are better served by a centralized marketing research group or by decentralizing the research function into splintered factions throughout the company.  Dan Womack in his Womack Insight blog, Kathryn Korostoff in her Research Rockstar blog, Jeffrey Henning in Voice of Vovici, Cathy Harrison in the Voices of CMB blog, and others made a variety of arguments ranging from the idea that a centralized approach is “the best chance of finding the truth” to the notion that decentralization is an inevitable “irreversible long-term trend” fueled by DIY software solutions, not unlike what word processors did to the typewriter or PowerPoint did to tedious, black-and-white presentations.

While there are legitimate opinions on both sides of the issue, these discussions miss a larger point.  Regardless of whether an organization’s research is centrally controlled or conducted ad hoc across functionary silos, our sights are better focused on elevating the perceived value of research and the role it plays in the corporate world.  Much of that can be achieved by top management because undoubtedly the fate of research is driven by the appreciation of its strategic role among executive decision makers.  Likewise, the value placed on research is made obvious by where it sits in the organizational structure.  Even in a decentralized environment research managers hopefully sit at the same table with the strategic thinkers and operate on the same playing field with the executive-level top dogs.

But to play at this level you have to know what you’re doing.  You have to be a researcher, not an adept survey software user, fast learner in questionnaire design, or someone who just finds human behavior/attitudes so very fascinating.  These are important attributes but they do not make a researcher.  The reason has something to do with seeing the forest for the trees, but I digress.

In the absence of top management that embraces research and/or an organizational structure that situates research alongside executive strategic decision makers, there are other avenues that directors of internal research departments can take to increase its perceived value.  Here are just a few:

  • Provide opportunities for researchers to work for a variety of internal clients so that he/she can gain a broad yet deep understanding of the company or business unit.
  • Develop a matrix team approach, allowing various research specialists to assist in the design and analysis of any one study.
  • Hire highly-capable, experienced research people who can offer prestige and know-how to the research group.
  • Extend research managers’ responsibilities beyond project management, getting Read Full Text